Barrett Eiselman, General Manager of the San Jose, Calif. club, calls the event the “Seinfeld” of golf tournaments, with no agenda other than for the participants, made up of four-person teams from Silicon Valley and Bay Area technology companies, to compete for a trophy and pride among their peers.
The inaugural Innovation Cup at Silver Creek Valley Country Club in San Jose, Calif., was much ado about nothing—just the way it was planned.
In fact, General Manager Barrett Eiselman calls it the “Seinfeld” of golf tournaments.
If “Seinfeld” was a “show about nothing,” Eiselman says, then this was a tournament with no agenda other than for the participants, made up of four-person teams from Silicon Valley and Bay Area technology companies, to compete for a trophy and all-important bragging rights among their peers. And to have a good time, of course.
The format of the tournament, held on a Thursday in early September, was a two-best, net-ball shotgun shamble, and it was open to 24 teams so that golfers could enjoy the pace of play. Each foursome was limited to one Silver Creek Valley member, but having a member on a team was not mandatory. All of the golfers in each foursome had to work for the same company.
It was natural for Silver Creek Valley to hold the tournament for the tech industry, which was offered at no charge to the participants. “We’re in the foothills of Silicon Valley, and we’re the only gated community in the South Bay,” Eiselman explains.
Silver Creek Valley sought teams from firms that have at least 100 employees in the local market, and the tournament attracted people from the likes of Tesla, Apple, Google, and Facebook.
The winning team, from Nvidia, earned the bragging rights, plus possession of the engraved winner’s trophy for a year. The company is also guaranteed a spot in next year’s Innovation Cup to defend its title.
“So many of the guests knew each other,” says Eiselman. “It was fun to see them connect with people they hadn’t seen for a while.”
When Eiselman and then-club President Ray Scott started planning the event 18 months earlier, they had no idea what kind of reception it would receive. “We didn’t know if anybody would show up,” says Eiselman. “We didn’t know if anybody would care.”
The tournament ended up with a waiting list, he adds, and companies already want to play next year.
Eiselman and Scott came up with the competition format and decided who would qualify to play. Then they took the idea to the Marketing Committee and Board of Directors. An associate created the communication campaign.
To promote the tournament, Silver Creek Valley sent an e-blast to members, to share information about it with people they know in the tech industry . The property also promoted it through the Silicon Valley Executive Network and by word of mouth. A link on the invite sent people to a special registration page on the Silver Creek Valley website.
Although the property holds a lot of charity outings throughout the year, the goal for this event, Eiselman notes, was to simply have people come out and enjoy the facility.
The teams played 18 holes, and golfers had a tournament handicap. They received a premium boxed lunch upon arrival at the property, which was closed for the day, along with tee prizes such as hats, water bottles, and golf balls featuring the Innovation Cup and Silver Creek Valley logos.
After the round, the participants were treated to a get-together on the outdoor patio that included food stations and a live steel-drum band. Think Eagles, Beatles, and Tom Petty tunes with a reggae vibe.
“For us, it was more about being a good neighbor, supporting an industry that’s important to the Bay Area, and enhancing our brand,” Eiselman says. “We didn’t want it to be a sales pitch.”
But Silver Creek Valley did set up a table in the dining area with materials about packaging and pricing for the property, and Eiselman says two tournament participants have followed up to inquire about Young Executive memberships.
Next year, Eiselman says, the property will likely make some small logistical tweaks to the Innovation Cup. The tournament might also be moved to May or early June, when course conditions are at their best.
While he expects to keep the field to 24 four-person teams, Eiselman says the property will increase promotion next year, so that more companies in the area know about the tournament.
The teams featured some good golfers, he adds, so they also might play from different tees next year, to extend the yardage.
Other facilities could easily stage a similar tournament for prominent industries or groups in their areas, Eiselman feels. When he worked in Nevada years ago, for instance, his property held a tournament for casino and high-end resort executives.
“Sometimes the simplest things are the easiest to promote and organize, and they’re the most successful,” Eiselman says. “We tend to overthink things in this business and look for that ‘Wow!’ factor—but this place sells itself.”